- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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LOS ANGELES -- Stanford’s defense has to face yet another Doak Walker finalist. Heck, that’s just another day at the office.
In fact, this is the fourth straight game that the Cardinal will be seeing one of the three finalists for the award given to the nation’s top running back. Only this time, they are facing the guy who brought home the hardware.
First, they held Oregon’s Kenjon Barner to just 66 yards on 21 carries. Then in they kept UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin to just 65 yards on 21 carries. In the Pac-12 title game, also against UCLA, Franklin had a monster game, rushing for 194 yards on 19 carries. But hey, these guys are Doak Walker finalists for a reason, right?
Now the Cardinal will complete the Tour de Doak when they take on winner Montee Ball and the Wisconsin Badgers on New Year’s Day in the Rose Bowl presented by Vizio. And Ball knows the Stanford front seven is as advertised.
“They're very physical,” he said. “They're big. They're big up front. The linebackers are very physical. They play extremely smart, which allows for them to make great plays … They're a lot faster than people think and they'll shock you at times because they're great athletes.”
To win the Doak Walker award, you have to be a pretty good athlete as well. And Ball is that. He’s rushed for 1,730 yards and 21 touchdowns while averaging 133.1 yards per game.
“First off, he's a great runner behind his pads,” said Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov.” It really goes unnoticed, but every time he gets hit, he falls forward 5 more yards, which makes a big difference, because you're looking at second-and-7 or second-and-5, for the dynamic of what you're doing from an offensive perspective. He's elusive, and I think he's faster this year than he has been in years past. So he's definitely going to be terrific competition for us.”
Of course, this isn’t anything the Cardinal haven’t seen in the past. Stanford boasts the nation’s No. 3 rush defense and is allowing just 87.69 yards per game. Considering the competition they’ve faced (let’s not forget to include consensus All-American Ka'Deem Carey from Arizona in there as well) that’s an awfully impressive season-long statistic.
“They do a good job,” said Wisconsin offensive coordinator Matt Canada. “They're well-coached. They are. It's not clinic talk. They're gap sound. Each week, I think we can do this. Some weeks it works, some weeks it doesn't. There's always a chink. I'm sure they've watched us for a month; this is how they're going to attack us. I'm sure they're right. But they're well coached, smart football players. They do a lot and their kids don't make mistakes.”
Just because Stanford has seen three All-Americans during the course of its season, it doesn’t mean they can take Ball or the Wisconsin rushing attack lightly.
“When you talk about Montee Ball, you're talking about one of the best in the country, Doak Walker Award winner,” said Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason. “He's got speed, size, and great vision. Finds seams and creases, and the one thing that he's been able to do is get better as games have gone on. So I think this group is formidable. They're probably one of the best that we'll see all year, and that presents a challenge.”
Wisconsin is also giving Stanford its due respect. But they aren't going to be intimidated by the numbers.
"I think it's going to be a much different test," said Wisconsin center Travis Frederick. "I can't say it's going to be tougher. Their defense has done tremendous things and they deserve to be ranked where they are ... It's going to be a little bit different, but I think it's going to be a comparable challenge, and potentially a greater challenge."